When Carnival was Cancelled
Written by Maya Doyle, Research Officer, National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago
Band of the Year: Back to Africa (Source: HipPostCard)
Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago is globally recognized for being the greatest show on earth. On Carnival Monday and Tuesday, thousands of masqueraders jump up, dance and chip on the road to the sound of Soca music. The amalgamation of colours and costumes alone, create a shared experience between masqueraders and spectators. Not only do people enjoy Carnival Monday and Tuesday but the build up to these two days is what causes people to really love Carnival. ‘Feteing’ with your friends and family whilst your favourite Soca artiste sings a new hit song is what a lot of people look forward to for the Carnival season.
The fact that Carnival is cancelled this year of 2021, feels wrong almost, but it is necessary in order to protect ourselves and each other from contracting and spreading the Covid-19 virus. This cancellation of the greatest show on earth begs the question…has carnival ever been cancelled before? And a lot of people may not know this, but yes it was cancelled once and was also postponed once!
World War II was the first time Carnival as we know it was cancelled. World War II, came with many severe impacts to Trinidad and Tobago. Calypso music was widely accepted by the American troops who were located at different bases all over the country, ushering in a new era for Calypsonians who were hired by clubs and bars at that time to perform for the troops. Steelbands also found themselves in great demand at this point. At the time Trinidad’s government gave America ninety-nine year leases on army, air force and naval bases and the dissemination of these troops into Trinidadian society propelled the local economy. Carnival was cancelled for the duration of World War II from 1939-1945 for security reasons as America was laying claim to the territorial advantages of the island.
Fast forward to Carnival in 1972, which was expected to be held on February 14th & 15th, however this was postponed due to a polio outbreak on the island. It was the first time since World War II that Carnival could not be held on the two Pre-Lenten dates as it was postponed to May of that same year. This cost the island about $2.35‐million in tourist revenues, according to local business leaders. Health Minister Francis Prevatt announced the postponement “to allow a nationwide polio immunization program to take its full effect” with 163 falling victim to the disease between December 1971 and February 1st 1972. Carnival in May of 1972 is especially remembered because of the downpour of rain which was immortalized by Lord Kitchener in his famous song ‘Rainorama’.
As we approach what would have been Carnival Monday and Tuesday, Soca music is heavy with the theme of “No Carnival” this year. Voice, the popular Soca artiste, partnered with Carib Brewery, in a song called, “Hold on to the Carnival”, Iwer George released a Road March contender, “If I had one Wish”, and Farmer Nappy has the hit “Backyard Jam”. As it was done before by our predecessors so it is done now, with current calypsonians and Soca artistes, portraying the love and need Trinidadians have for Carnival through music. This Carnival, explore your memories, go even further and look back into Carnival history. Listen to past Carnival songs by our lyrical calypsonians and see how their past moments, captured in calypso, still apply to this day.
Carnival in the 60’s (Source:Youtube)
“Mama, when they hear they go get the carnival
All masqueraders on heat
When they didn’t hear if it was official, but they started turning beast on the street
And they start to jump around, yaay, and they start to tumble down, yaay
And they fall down on the ground, yaay, if you see how they came, yes
But what was so comical, in the midst of bacchanal
Rain come and wash out mas in May.
Some ah them even say is they come from Morne Coco
so they wouldn’t let we play and dey blaming polio,
who they think they could fool all we know they better do fast, polio or no polio, man we want we mas.”
– Lord Kitchener ‘Rainorama’